It’s all on the line in finals push

Trent Armour wraps Kooweerup star Nathan Muratore up in a tackle. 183889 Pictures: ROB CAREW

By Russell Bennett


The chance to finish on top of the ladder and have to win only one finals game to make it through to the 2018 WGFNC senior grand final at Garfield on 15 September – that’s effectively what awaited Kooweerup on Saturday.
That’s what was on the line for a club that hasn’t won a senior premiership for nearly 40 years.
And that’s what was taken from the Demons’ grasp by the Goon on Saturday at Denhams Road.
Now, if Kooweerup is to make it, they’ll have to go the long way.
The Demons have the ability to do it – that much is obvious – but the test will be in whether they have the focus when they need it most.
On Saturday the Goon capitalised on an 11-point quarter-time advantage to continually improve throughout telling second and third quarters and come away with a richly-deserved 35-point win, 17.8 (110) to 11.9 (75).
But the truth of the matter is that, despite Saturday’s result, the Goon is still searching for its first, genuine four-quarter effort of the season.
That’s what made the win – in a way – even more impressive. They seemed to switch off in the final term, but given their efforts over the preceding three quarters that could absolutely be forgiven.
Their intensity and appetite for the contest was clear for all to see early, and the efforts of Trent Armour, Brent Hughes, Brendan Hermann, full-back Daniel Battaglin, and Jake Blackwood typified just that.
Armour was particularly eye-catching – displaying a remarkable combination of strength, ball-winning ability, composure, and nous. Despite his relatively young senior career, he’s rapidly forged a reputation as one of the competition’s very best players.
Up forward for the Goon, Matt Stevens and Troy McDermott continually provided target after target, and they both benefited – McDermott, particularly, with six majors.
At quarter-time, Ben Collins urged his men to wake-up – particularly defensively. Their trademark defensive pressure wasn’t at its usual level, and with that the boys from the Goon were able to capitalise – most lethally through the centre. Kooweerup had given up six goals for the quarter – an amount that, in Collins’ words, was unacceptable. The lead was seemingly down to a combination of the Goon’s pressure, and its willingness at the coalface.
A huge second-quarter collision between Bailey Galante and Jed Ould in which Ould came off second best and wasn’t able to take any further part in the game showed what this clash meant to the visitors – an unflinching desire to get to the ball first and win it for their team mates, regardless of the personal toll.
At the half – and with their side leading by four goals – Goon coach Dean Blake’s right-hand man Jock Holland put it perfectly.
“Are we going to go back into lazy habits?” he asked.
“They will come at you. This is about mental strength. Let’s aim to win this quarter – even if by only a point.”
Blake echoed those sentiments, adding: “We speak about testing ourselves – this is it, this is the test.”
Though the four-quarter effort they were after didn’t quite come to fruition, the heat seemed out of the game by three quarter-time with the Goon leading by 51 points.
“You’re always looking for that perfect game – as a coach you always want something better,” Blake told the Gazette in the aftermath of the contest.
“I think it was probably two quarters (of good footy) that we played against Inverloch, and this week I think it was three quarters.
“But it’s hard mentally to stay switched on when you know it’s probably done (at three-quarter time).”
And the wash-up of Saturday’s results, again, points to the minuscule difference between each of the top four sides – Inverloch Kongwak, Phillip Island, Kooweerup, and the Goon.
“After winning that, we’re still not guaranteed a second chance,” Blake said of Saturday’s game.
“We wanted to win, for starters, because it’s so close and there’s the possibility of all of the top four finishing on the same points and just having percentage separating them.
“It’s unbelievable – you couldn’t ask for a more.
“It’s been around that mark for most of the year, but you still don’t think it’ll be that even by the end.
“Next week, we still can’t let up because we have to keep Dalyston to under five goals and score a fair bit as well, so it’s not like we get a break – we have to come out all guns blazing again.”
For Kooweerup, former Norm Walker Medallist (SEFNL league best and fairest) Dom Paynter was particularly eye-catching. Long known for his explosive pace on the outside and his ability to dispose of the Sherrin cleanly by foot, Paynter shone all over the ground on Saturday – both in and under, and on the outside. The former Pakenham gun will have a telling role to play for the Demons in this year’s finals series, and he delivered a stark reminder on Saturday – including to fellow former Lions Blake and Holland – as to just what a classy operator he truly is.


Could it really have been scripted any better? With just one home and away round left to play for 2018, the make-up of the upcoming finals series is still completely up in the air.
While many leagues around the state – particularly country Victoria – seem certain one or two horse races, there are four legitimate premiership fancies in the West Gippsland Football Netball Competition, and the fifth side that makes the dance will fancy its chances too – having to ride on a wave of momentum to even get a ticket.
The sixth-placed Garfield will host the fifth-placed Cora Lynn this Saturday in what is every bit an elimination final before either of them even gets the opportunity to play in the real thing.
Most people’s predictions came true in the way in which Round 17 panned out on the weekend with Phillip Island proving too strong for the Cobras, and the Giants falling short in Korumburra against the Stars.
So, this weekend, the Cobras and Stars – both 10-7 – will put it all out there for a finals berth and the chance to upset one of the top four.
The current top six is littered with combinations of sides that have defeated, and lost to, each other.
While one side seems to have an edge on another, a third or fourth side would have the edge on them both.
While this makes for a genuine tipster’s nightmare, more importantly it makes for one hell of a finals series to come following Round 18.
Inverloch Kongwak is currently a game clear on top of the ladder but could potentially slide all the way to fourth – and an elimination final – with a loss to the Island this week… an Island side that, keep in mind, had the better of the reigning premier by four goals back in Round 9 at Inverloch.
By coach Beau Vernon’s own admission, the Cobras beat his side around the ball early at Cora Lynn on Saturday before some second quarter adjustments – on the ball, up forward, and in defence – got the game more on the visitors’ terms and they went on to win by 53 points, 13.7 (85) to 4.8 (32).
Vernon said his side had been building all season, and acknowledged it took his group some time gel and get used to playing together.
“I admit that I probably overloaded the players with too much information in the first half of the year, but in the second half we’ve stripped it back a lot,” he said.
“My main thing is just to get the players enjoying their footy.”
Looking ahead to this week, Vernon spoke of the opportunity that his group has in front of it.
“It’s amazing that, after having a reasonably slow start to the year, we have an opportunity to finish off the season on top of the ladder,” he said.
In the other games of the round across the weekend, Bunyip kicked into gear after a slow start to storm home by 42 points against the hometown Magpies in Dalyston, 16.12 (108) to 10.6 (66) with Rickie Crockett, Brad Walker, Nathan Allen, Brent Heus (three goals), Damien Szwaja and Jason Williams (three goals) all playing significant roles; Inverloch Kongwak was predictably far too much for Kilcunda Bass to handle in claiming a big win at home, 17.14 (116) to 4.5 (29); and Garfield enjoyed a big final term at the Showgrounds to defeat Korumburra-Bena by 45 points, 11.12 (78) to 4.9 (33).
This week, the vast majority of the competition’s focus will be on two games in particular – the Island’s showdown with Inverloch at Cowes, and Garfield’s Beswick Street battle with Cora Lynn.
Prior to the Island’s clash with the Sea Eagles, there will be a White Ribbon Walk in memory of slain local mum Sam Fraser. The walk will commence at 11.30am at the bottom of Thompson Avenue and head from there to the Phillip Island Football Club.
Bass MP Brian Paynter has worked closely with the football club in organising the event. Light lunch will be available from noon at $10 per head, with White Ribbon ambassador Luke Ablett the guest speaker for the function. All proceeds from the day will be donated to the family of Sam Fraser.
Bookings are required for the lunch and should be made at